Basil is botanically classified as Ocimum basilicum, a member of the Lamiaceae or mint family and part of the Ocimum genus along with thyme, rosemary, mint and oregano. Its botanical name, Ocimum basilicum translates in Greek to smell and king, hence Basil’s unofficial title, “the king of herbs”. Basil, sweet or Italian basil, as it is also known, is the most popular and common of all culinary basil cultivars. Plants of the Ocimum genus are characterized by stems with square cross sections and leaves that grow opposite each other on the stem.
Basil has long been a popular herb for use in Italian, Thai and Vietnamese cuisine. In the Hindi religion one specific variety of Basil known as Tulsi is considered scared and believed to have protective powers, it was even used for a period of time in British court as a substitute for the bible when Indians would go under oath.
- Basil boasts a high level of vitamin K, only 2 table spoons of Basil fulfills 20% of the recommended daily intake.
- Basil also has a moderate amount of beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant which converts to vitamin A when digested.
- Basil has been used in traditional Hindu medicine to treat inflammatory diseases, including arthritis.
- Basil’s oils can also be extracted and utilized for their aromatherapy qualities as well as has been found that in high concentrations is an effective antimicrobial for food born bacteria.
Basil leaves are vibrant green, heart shaped and can be harvested when as petite as half an inch and as large as up to four inches in length. Basil has highly aromatic qualities and flavor profiles; the wide range of distinctive fragrances within its chemical makeup emit notes of citrus, clove, anise and cinnamon, all providing a sensory memory that sets basil apart from other herbs.
- Basil is a delicate herb that can be used whole, chopped, crushed into a paste or dried; though it loses much of its aromatic properties when dried.
- It is most commonly used raw in fresh applications or when finishing cooked preparations as heat alters the flavor and color of the herb.
- Add strands of Basil to chopped, stacked and bread salads.
- Serve chopped atop pizza, pasta, chicken and fish.
- Combine with pistachios, pinenuts and/or walnuts to make a creamy pesto sauce.
- The aromatic flavor of Basil pairs well with tomatoes, garlic, onion, corn, pear, mint, strawberry and cow’s milk cheeses.
- Basil will keep, dry and refrigerated, for up to a week but is best when used immediately.